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History Of The District

About Gisborne and Mount Macedon Districts Historical Society Inc.

A Brief History of Gisborne and Mount Macedon Districts

The Mount Macedon Historical Society was formed in the 1970's by a group of members of the Horticultural Society, who saw a need to document the gardens, gardeners and owners of the grand homes of Mount Macedon. For several years the Historical Society remained as a group within the Mount Macedon Horticultural & Historical Society, but as interest in family history grew in the 1980's, the Mount Macedon Historical Society branched out on their own. Following the loss of many historical items, when the devastating Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 destroyed the Mount Macedon Country Womens' Association Hall, members met in a local Church hall and a newly established collection was, for many years, cared for in private homes.

In Gisborne, interested residents also formed the Gisborne Historical Society in the 1970's. Initially a strong local interest group collected and displayed numerous historical photographs, documents and memorabilia but were always restricted by the lack of a suitable home. In the 1980's, permission was granted for the Gisborne Society to store large items in one room of the Court House and documents and ledgers in the strongroom of the former Shire Office, now used as the Library.

The Gisborne Court House was built in 1858. The Court of Petty Sessions met regularly from 1858; in 1864 the Court of Petty Sessions was held twice per week, while the County Court was held three times annually. The Court continued to meet regularly until 1970 and then only occasionally until it was officially closed in 1980.
Over the years, the Court House has had many varied uses:
From 1860 until 1928, the Borough Council and later the Shire of Gisborne, occupied the south east room and held their meetings in the Court Room. From 1860 until 1927 H.R.Dixon, followed by Dixon & Son, auctioneers and estate agents occupied the south west room of the Court House.
From 1930 until 1985, the Lands Department occupied the south east room as a vermin and noxious weeds office.
From 1968 until 1976, the two south west rooms were occupied by the Police Department.
They were followed in 1977 by the Gisborne Waterworks Trust who occupied the western rooms and met in the Court Room until 1982.
From 1984 until 1990, the Gisborne State Emergency Service used the Court House as their headquarters.

In 1989, the Government sought expressions of interest for the future use of Gisborne Court House. The Mount Macedon Historical Society applied and was chosen as the most suitable future tenant. Immediately following this announcement, members of the Mount Macedon Historical Society commenced talks with the Gisborne Historical Society and the Gisborne Shire, with a view to future amalgamation of the two Societies and to seek support of the Shire for the restoration of the Gisborne Court House. The Gisborne Shire agreed to the restoration, during which time, the Mount Macedon Historical Society relocated it"s collection to the Court House, continuing to liaise closely with the Shire and undertaking to restore the internal fittings in the Court Room. Restoration of the building was completed in 1992.

In October 1992 the two Societies amalgamated to form the present Society; hence the rather long title of Gisborne & Mount Macedon Districts Historical Society Incorporated. In this long title, Gisborne acknowledges the Gisborne Historical Society, the Mount Macedon acknowledges the Mount Macedon Historical Society, Districts indicates the surrounding areas that we cover and Incorporated to indicate our legal status. Our society therefore accepts responsibility for the collection and conservation of historical information relating to the area covered by the former Gisborne Shire. Since 1992, the Society has developed and expanded the collection and the facilities we offer to members and history researchers. The membership of the Society has grown from 25 members at amalgamation to an increasing number in excess of 150 at the present time.

During 1996 Gisborne and Mount Macedon Districts Historical Society created the Gisborne Pioneer Park adjacent to the Court House, by securing a large amount of Government funding and Local Government support, to provide work for unemployed youth of the district. This project included the laying of paving stones from a former heritage site, the building of a thirty three metre long bluestone wall, landscaping of the area and the completion of restoration of the bluestone lockup, the brick stables and the original privy.
The Gisborne Pioneer Park was officially opened on Australia Day 1997, with the unveiling of the inaugural plaques. Since that time, families have continued to place family plaques on the wall, to commemorate the work of our early district pioneers.

If you are interested in placing a plaque on our Pioneer Wall to remember your ancestor who was resident in this district prior to 1945, order forms may be obtained by contacting the Society in person, by phone, by e-mail or by mail. Make a commitment now and ask members of your extended family to share the cost and create a focus for yourselves and your descendants when visiting the Gisborne district.  

Prices for plaques are always available on application.


In 1834, John Aitken arrived in Melbourne with others and was so impressed with the land he inspected south of Mount Macedon deeming it suitable for sheep grazing, he selected a large tract of land and then returned to Tasmania. The following year, he shipped merino sheep from Tasmania to Dromana, where his ship went aground and with help from the Aborigines, he rescued many of the flock and overlanded them to this district. John Aitken developed the property "Emmeline Vale", named after his wife Emmeline and it was here that they reared six children as well as producing some of the finest merino wool in the Colony.

Mount Macedon forms the southern end of Victoria�s Great Dividing Range. Rising to 1000 metres, it is the most prominent feature of the Macedon Ranges. It was named Mount Macedon on September 30th 1836 by Major Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor General of New South Wales who ascended it and wrote in his diary, from the top of the mountain, Port Phillip Bay and a few of the buildings of Melbourne can be seen. Major Mitchell also noted the high quality and size of the timber on the side of the mountain. For a time the name Mount Macedon was applied to the much larger Mount Macedon Police District with its headquarters at Carlsruhe and its borders reaching from Keilor in the south, the Murray River to the north and the South Australian border to the west.

From the late 1830s many pastoralists began taking up large tracts of land in the surrounding districts, arriving from both Tasmania and New South Wales. The first recorded settlers in this district were Hill who settled the "Turitable Run" on the South side of Mount Macedon, Stainforth who selected the area around the present Rosslynne Reservoir, Barbour and Matson who took up land at Bullengarook and Aitken and Howey who settled around the area later named Gisborne.

Henry Howey selected land from near the present town of Riddells Creek through Gisborne to Mount Macedon. He also bought land at the first land sales in Melbourne where his name remains on the property on the corner of Collins and Swanston Streets. Howey then returned to Parramatta to bring his wife, six children and some staff members to settle in this district. However, their small vessel the "Sarah" was wrecked on the ninety-mile beach en route to Gisborne. In the township of Gisborne, his name is perpetuated in Howey Street and in the Howey Monument where his bust overlooks Howey Reserve

John Carre Riddell and his cousin Thomas Ferrier Hamilton arrived in the Colony in 1840 and bought at auction, the land and much of the stock that the late Henry Howey had selected. These cousins married sisters and for a time, lived together at "Cairn Hill", Riddells Creek. Later, T.F.Hamilton built "Elderslie" on Barringo Road, New Gisborne, where they raised a large family. The Hamilton family also built the homesteads of "Glen Drouitt" on Glen Drouitt Road and "Lilliesleaf" on Brougham Road at Mount Macedon.

Blanche Muriel Eugenie, one of the Hamilton daughters, married another early settler, Thomas who was son of Ross Watt who called his property "Rosslynne". In Gisborne, Blanche became the first female Shire President in Victoria. Together with her small daughter Betty, Blanche instigated Wattle Day in Victoria, when in 1912, they handed out sprigs of wattle in Melbourne suburbs to raise funds to build a branch of the Church of England on land she had donated, now known as the Childrens' Hall in Station Road, New Gisborne. In that first year they raised 3000. Blanche Ross-Watt also formed the Gisborne Red Cross Branch, within a few days of the outbreak of World War One.

In the late 1830's, William Robertson took up land on the Barringo Creek where he built the 'Wooling' homestead together with extensive orchards and gardens. There he also built Victoria's first saw mill which provided much of the timber needed in the development of the new Colony. Many other mills were established throughout the mountain ranges, taking advantage of the high quality and plentiful timber that could be milled locally. Robertson's mill provided the building materials for dwellings both locally and in Melbourne, for fencing requirements, for lining the gold mines and for sleepers and railway stations in the construction of the Melbourne and Murray River Railway. The numerous sawyers and splitters employed at the many mills in the district, lived in huts built in the forest. Other settlers found employment in utilising timber by-products, by establishing eucalyptus distilleries and charcoal retorts as these industries required little capital to establish. Brick and tile making became a successful Macedon industry in the early days of the development of the district. Some locals also tried their luck with slate and gold mining in both Macedon and Bullengarook, but with limited success.

The first public building in this district, built in 1840 was called the Travellers' Rest Hotel and the little village that sprang up around it, was also known by that name. The Inn and the village soon changed their name to the Bush Inn and remained so until the town of Gisborne was officially named in 1851 by Robert Hoddle in memory of Henry Fyshe Gisborne, a former Commissioner of Crown Lands.

When gold was discovered in the 1850's at Forest Creek, later known as Castlemaine and at Sandhurst, later named Bendigo, a village sprang up at Middle Gully, now known as Macedon. Middle Gully provided inns, beer houses, coffee tents, blacksmiths' forges and stores to supply the needs of the weary travellers heading north to try their luck at the gold fields. 

Travellers on their way to the goldfields had to endure muddy tracks and toll gates at Keilor, Keilor Plains and Gisborne, before negotiating the dreaded Black Forest notorious for bushrangers, between Macedon and Five Mile Creek, later named Woodend.

Following the opening of the railway in 1862, the townsfolk of Gisborne found that they were disadvantaged because they had to pay a toll to go to and from the railway station. After lengthy, heated discussions with the authorities, the tollgate was moved from near the bridge over Jacksons Creek, to a point further along Mount Alexander Road so that the townsfolk could travel freely between the town and the Gisborne station.

Gold from the diggings was transported to Melbourne by an armed Escort, first privately owned, but later operated by the military and police. Teams of horses were changed at Carlesruhe, Macedon, Gisborne and Aitken's Gap, with gold being stored over night in the Police Barracks, on the south side of Jacksons Creek at Gisborne. In one week in 1851, over one ton of gold was conveyed through Macedon and Gisborne on route to Melbourne. During the gold rush of the 1850s, Gisborne flourished, boasting a brewery, two wine saloons, eight hotels, grocery, grain and hay stores, harness makers, blacksmiths, butchers' shops and many cottages and tents.

The local area continued to flourish until the construction of the railway from 1858 to 1861 brought many workers together with their families, who camped nearby. At the villages of Middle Gully, Upper Macedon, Riddells Creek and New Gisborne, hotels, shops, churches and schools were built in close proximity to the new railway stations, to meet the needs of the growing communities.

The timber industry had so denuded the entire mountain ranges, that in 1872, the Government saw the need to establish Macedon State Nursery, to encourage the replanting of the mountain and to supply seedlings to all parts of Victoria. This nursery employed many of the former timber industry workers. A great number of the trees that were propagated at the nursery were of the English varieties with which the landowners were familyar, hence the unique character of many of the early avenues in the Gisborne streets and in the now famous Mount Macedon grand gardens.

In order to take advantage of the "pure mountain air" and to escape the hot summers of Melbourne, many of the wealthy businessmen purchased substantial areas of land on which to build large homes at Upper Macedon. Each spring, members of staff from their Melbourne homes, were sent by train, often bringing with them, horses and milking cows, to prepare the hill stations in readiness for the families to follow. These families were conveyed from the Middle Gully Railway Station by horse drawn and later motorised taxis that met the arrival of each train.

With the development and increasing popularity of the motor car, the Melbourne wealthy were able to travel greater distances than Mount Macedon, so many of the larger homes and some smaller ones, were converted to guest houses. This area then developed as a popular tourist resort and remained so until after World War Two, when many blocks were subdivided and some guesthouses and homes were destroyed by fire, some suspiciously. During this former tourism boom, the residents of Macedon were those who provided the gardeners, caretakers and domestic staff for the guesthouses and large private residences on Mount Macedon. Following the closure of many of the guesthouses, former domestic workers were forced to seek employment further afield, although many of the gardeners were retained on the large properties or found work at the State Nursery.

Following the opening of Melbourne International Airport, this area became the preferred place of residence for many airport and airline employees who chose to take advantage of the quality environment of the Gisborne and Mount Macedon area. Many former Melbourne residents have also chosen to semi-retire or retire to this district. In recent years, with the growing popularity of boutique bed and breakfast accommodation, development of wineries, quality food outlets, nurseries and art and craft galleries, Gisborne, Mount Macedon & Macedon have again become much sought after. The beauty and tranquillity of the district and the ease of travel, being adjacent to an excellent freeway, enables visitors to find natural beauty and clean air just 45 minutes from Melbourne.

The redevelopment of the reserves at the Stanley Park Waterfall, Sanatorium Lake and at the Memorial Cross at Mount Macedon gives an opportunity for both recreation and adventure. Picnic reserves, walking trails, rock climbing and the proximity to the mysterious Hanging Rock, make the area attractive to young and old alike. In spring and autumn, many visitors flock to the area to enjoy the glorious private gardens and floral displays that are regularly open to the public, while the monthly local market held on the 1st Sunday of each month at Gisborne, the Village in the Valley, are always extremely  well attended by both locals and by visitors from far and wide.

Today the local communities strive to preserve the "pure mountain air" that brought so many of our early settlers to this beautiful Gisborne and Mount Macedon district, while at the same time we enjoy sharing with visitors, the area's tranquillity and ever-changing beauty.


Copyright Gisborne & Mount Macedon Districts Historical Society Inc. 2001/ 2021


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Peter Gerasimon
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